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I was writing a comment on another website, and considered introducing it with a piece of trivia. My classical education kicked into gear, and I wanted to say "Relevant trivium: ..."

I realize I could circumvent my quandary by saying "Relevant piece of trivia: ..." but now I am curious - if the dictionary.com definition of trivia is

plural noun
1. matters or things that are very unimportant, inconsequential, or nonessential; trifles; trivialities.

Is there a place for the singular "trivium"? That word was used in the Middle Ages to indicate the first three of seven "core curriculum" subjects taught at University: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The next four subjects were arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy (the quadrivium).

That suggests that the word is taken - but I don't know that for sure.

So at the risk of breaking the rules - here are two questions:

Can one use "trivium" to indicate a single piece of trivia? And if not, what would be the recommended alternative?

Factoid was the only one that sprang to mind. Are there any others?

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    You seemed to have ignored "triviality" from the definition you quoted. Will that not do? – Margana Jun 13 '15 at 1:55
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    Triviality is different. "Factoid" is, precisely, the term to use here. But there's no reason not to make up and use another funny nonce-term. – Fattie Jun 13 '15 at 1:57
  • @Margana - when I hear "triviality" I think "lack of seriousness or importance; insignificance." rather than the meaning that I am looking for (although I see now that it can be used that way). – Floris Jun 13 '15 at 1:57
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    "triviality" is different and irrelevant here. – Fattie Jun 13 '15 at 1:59
  • @Floris: "lack of seriousness or importance; insignificance" - but isn't that just how the definition in your question describes "trivia", the plural of the singular you want to find? What am I missing? – Margana Jun 13 '15 at 2:08
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To answer the question more pedantically... trivia is a back-formation from trivial (at least according to MW, and Oxford sort-of agrees).

Is trivium is a valid further back-formation? Surely that depends on whether you think that trivia is the plural of a count noun, or a mass noun. I agree with Oxford, which thinks it's a mass noun, and so forming a singular out of it doesn't make complete grammatical sense.

BUT that in no sense implies it can't be used as an amusing coinage - it's every writer's right to break the rules for comic effect. And it could in due course gain currency through use, in which case trivia would presumably transition to being the plural of a count noun.

PS. Incidentally, I noticed in the process of writing this that Oxford thinks a factoid is specifically an unreliable fact. I'm not sure I quite agree that's how the word is actually used, but perhaps be careful.

  • Interesting. I have never associated "unreliable" with factoid. Language is a wonderful and living thing! – Floris Jun 13 '15 at 15:16
  • What happened to "factoid" is the same as what happened to "literally". By the way, the "supposed" term I have seen floating around was a "factlet". – htmlcoderexe Feb 1 '17 at 0:49
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No. I don't know Latin but I know a road's not a vium, but a via. Trivia derives from the intersection of three roads. Google tells me the plural is viae. Via is already the singular.

  • This is an excellent point. So although "trivia" is a plural noun, it derives from a Latin singular; as such "trivium", whilst maybe coined for humorous effect, would actually be not only pedantic but wrong. – Floris Jun 14 '15 at 11:34
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A "factoid" has truthiness, whereas a "fact" has truthfulness. This is especially important in light of recent pronouncement from Washington DC. Although the euphemism du jour is now "alternate fact". AKA, a lie.

As for "trivium", it should be obviously construed as a single item of trivia, to readers with even a modicum of knowledge of how latinate words work. (Or perhaps only to those of us those with optima, or quasi maxima of knowledge. I suspect that we amateur lexicologists are the only ones who really care about such things anyway. Consider the audience; YMMV ).

By comparison: "agenda", a plural, is now generally construed as a singular noun, with a typical plural of "agendas" (or sometimes, "agenda".) "Agendum", though rarely used, is clearly (to us) one item on an agenda, but is now dually defined, at least in one dictionary, with the primary meaning of "agenda". That is, the singular "agendum" is equated with the singular "agenda", which has a plural of either "agenda" or "agendas".
(see http://www.dictionary.com/browse/agendum ) Would it be better to coin "agendoid"? Or "agendicule"? Or "trivicule"? I think not.

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I think the only answer here is: it would indeed read on the page as you coining a word in a funny way.

{Much as a couple of Doods might add "-age" on the end of stuff .. "Time for some beerage, dude?!"}

Can one use "trivium" to indicate a single piece of trivia?

Yes, for sure. The fact that "trivium" was a very obscure word one thousand years ago - is in my opinion totally irrelevant.

You're simply making-up another funny alternative to "factoid". Sounds great to me.

(This is like one of those intellectual discussions comedy writers have about something funny :) )

  • I appreciate your inputs - good to hear that (to you at least) it comes across as funny rather than pedantic. I'll wait and see what others think/say. – Floris Jun 13 '15 at 2:00
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    now that's subtle! :) just a typo. For sure, let's see if it gets some laffs. I actually think it's great. I'm gonna use it all the time now. It's stuck already see? :) This new word you coined has become like one of those relationships you talk about before it even happens! – Fattie Jun 13 '15 at 2:05

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